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Friday 18th November 2011


PH BLOG: PISTONHEADS AT THE LA SHOW

A first-timer's perspective on the LA Auto Show, with gallery!


The LA Auto Show has always passed me by and though it's not up there in the league of the big European events, or even New York, it's a favourite of Porsche's and several niche specials like the Boxster Spyder, 911 Speedster and 911 GTS have been launched off the back of it.

911 fascinates, Panamera GTS meanwhile...
911 fascinates, Panamera GTS meanwhile...
This year it's a big one though - the all-new 911. We'll be driving this today so stay tuned for the first drive report. As you'll have seen previously I've got my concerns about whether Porsche hastraded soul for technology but one of the other hacks on the trip assures me that, even from the passenger seat, the 991 is all you'd hope it to be. We'll see.

We reach LA on Tuesday night after a delightful two hours in immigration control before hitting the show on the first press day on Wednesday morning. More queuing for accreditation doesn't do anything for my mood but once through the doors the ankle-deep carpeting on the Mercedes standis relaxing and having recoiled in horror from the ML63 I instead concentrate on the C63 Black Series and cry inside at the thought I'd had to assign the launch to someone else. What a great looking car. The CLK Black remains one of my all time favourites so we'll see what AMG has cooked up for its spiritual successor.

Jaguar and Land Rover preach to the converted
Jaguar and Land Rover preach to the converted
Walking round the back of the Mercedes stand I realise I've actually crossed into the Jaguar/Land Rover area, the XKR-S Convertible and C-X16 still under their covers but a real buzz about the place. Both brands clearly have big profiles here in California and the stand and the presentations reflect this, the DC100 Defender concept revised for LA and the XKR-S a genuine world debut. The C-X16 looks stunning in its new, Cali-friendly, white paint too.

Over the way from Jaguar I have a quick nose about the Subaru BRZ concept, which looks absolutely stunning. Compact, low slung and brilliantly poised it'll be a much, much more interesting place to put your money than a TT and a lot more relevant than the fun but thirsty Nissan 370Z.

Scion branded Toyota FT-86 Concept
Scion branded Toyota FT-86 Concept
Without the relentless rush of new debuts and press conferences to worry about LA is actually quite pleasant, there being time to - gasp! - talk to people and actually look at the cars. This is a novelty for most hacks for whom motor shows tend to be a fairly unforgiving treadmill of elbow jostling press conferences and bitter fights for press packs and bandwidth.

And it is only when I get to the Scion stand that it actually feels any different from a regular European show. Scion is the opposite end of the Toyota spectrum from Lexus and resolutely 'yoof'. Indeed, anyone over the age of 25 appears to have been quietly escorted from the stand, Toyota taking a leaf out of Mini's book for the relentless flirtation with the smart phone generation. Despite being a few years over the target audience I manage to hang around long enough to have a look at the Scion-branded version of the Toyota FT-86 and a giggle at the iQ Pit Boss, one of a gaggle of mad iQ concepts built for the recent SEMA show.

Another SEMA car, the MX-5 Spyder, grabs my attention next door at Mazda, likewise the fabulous RX-8 race car. With nobody about to talk to I decide to return later.

This isn't the Porsche you're looking for...
This isn't the Porsche you're looking for...
At noon it's time to head over to Porsche's inner sanctum for the world premiere. It's meant to be a secret but word has already spread about thePanamera GTS, launched with a cringeworthy video of four Porsche factory drivers buddying up for some four-up track action. Two are wheeled out for an equally awkward 'chat' with Porsche R&D chief Wolfgang Hatz, nobody in the room at all convinced by the claim that this is the hardcore Panamera built for the track.

The hall next door to Porsche is home to more domestic product and hence a more Stateside vibe. Past Dodge - the Challenger SRT and mean looking Charger black and white are cool but there is little else of interest - and into Ford I get my first look at the Shelby GT500. What a beast! A quick chat with SVT engineering boss Jamal Hameedi reveals disappointingly little but he's clearly happy to let the car do the talking.

Next door to Ford I spot an interesting looking Kia race carand luck out that the English guy close to it is from Kia's race prep outfit Kinetic. I get the low down on the car and the B-spec race series it's built for and wander on.

Jet-lagged and in charge of 550hp...
Jet-lagged and in charge of 550hp...
By this point I am due back at Jaguar for my run round the block in the XKR-S test mule, which I manage to eke out longer than I should have done by distracting my chaperone with car talk. "You're smarter than you look!" he admits when we finally get back.

Returning to Mazda I once again luck out and the random suit I collar to talk about the RX-8 turns out to be Mazda USA's head of motorsport John Doonan. Modest as ever, it takes me all of 30 seconds to slip in the fact I have, just recently, played at being a factory Mazda driver(OK, I milk it...) but he feigns interest, especially in the MX-5 GT car. He then talks me round the RX-8 which, despite appearances, is little more than a silhouette racer. Though it does keep the trademark suicide doors.

Press room is where, sadly, the real action is at
Press room is where, sadly, the real action is at
My second day at the show is a chance to run round and grab photos of the cars I saw the previous day with the newly purchased official PH camera and then I'm off to the press room to upload stories to the PH homepage. And if you were ever under the illusion attending motor shows is a glamorous business take a look at the press room which is, for many journos, as far as they get. This being America they do at least lay on decent refreshments, which is more than can be said for the stingy organisers at Geneva or Frankfurt.

My final run round takes me deep into the bowels of the convention centre where I'd been promised a - literally - underground view of LA car culture. In reality it is a disappointing collection of over-wheeled tat and, it seems, the last resting place of the Mercedes SLR McLaren, several of which are here. I can't get out quickly enough. Next stop Santa Barbara and the new 911.

Whoop-whoop, sound of da police
Whoop-whoop, sound of da police
The General Lee reborn?
The General Lee reborn?
So, is it to be a Subaru BRZ STI...
So, is it to be a Subaru BRZ STI...
...or perhaps the Toyota FT-86/Scion FR-S?
...or perhaps the Toyota FT-86/Scion FR-S?
Dodge Challenger SRT 392 Hemi
Dodge Challenger SRT 392 Hemi
Scion iQ Pit Boss concept from SEMA
Scion iQ Pit Boss concept from SEMA
Tuner hall was the land that taste forgot
Tuner hall was the land that taste forgot
Arghh, my eyes, my eyes!
Arghh, my eyes, my eyes!
Author: Dan Trent